The Dark Knight Strikes Again
Written by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
Who’s up for a sequel that breaks all the rules for how a sequel should be done? That’s right – we’re doing The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank “Crazy?” Miller and Lynn “My eyes!” Varley. Is Batman punk rock or corporation stooge? Is this the point where Frank Miller lost it forever? And why does no one talk about Lynn Varley?
Imagine if Jesus was owned by a corporation.
So. I do this podcast thing with my friends called Kraken (exploring the depths of culture, politics, technology, and that; each week taking a Thing then diving into a related Question. Join us among the tangents and tentacles). The last episode we did we were lucky enough to have Dan White on (Dan White = Mindless One, SILENCE!, Cindy & Biscuit, Comics Journal interviewee, London Graphic Novel Network participator etc – Hi Dan!) and (obviously) we did talking about Mr Darkness No Parents himself: Batman.
Well, I think to clarify, I was more interested in Batman being something akin to a 20th century folklore figure – same with Dr Who. He’s a character with some core, ingrained elements of his mythos, but one who crosses through various mediums and artforms, whose richness as a character comes from the various tellings, retellings, re-interpretations and re-modellings for the last 75 or so years. The Batman in whatever current comic DC is publishing is also the Batman in the computer game, the TV show, the lunchbox, the other TV show, the cartoons, the ones that kids pretend to be, the one who’s the punchline of the joke “How does Batman’s mum call him for dinner…”
I don’t have a problem with different interpretations of Batman but as a fairly obsessive comics fan at the time I was just surprised at how unoriginal and dull the story was. DC had an Elseworlds imprint which told stories of their characters in alternative settings, there wasn’t much in the way of plot in TDKSA that hadn’t previously happened in one or other of those stories.
Obviously it was a lot easier to do something different in the 1980s when there was far more unexplored potential in the character but it all just read like Miller was making it up as he went along compared to the fantastic storytelling of the original Dark Knight story or his ‘Daredevil ; Born Again’, which is for my money the best superhero story ever.
It’s clear from the work he did in between (primarily Sin City) that Miller was becoming less interested in telling intricate stories and more concerned with the expressionistic storytelling and this book just read like an excuse for him to draw superheroes doing cool stuff (which, come to think of it sounds pretty similar to everything I’ve read about that new film) and it’s pretty good on those terms (and the colouring choices were inventive too) but there wasn’t much about it that seemed to merit a reread which is why I gave it away after reading it and haven’t had any real desire to reread it since… Although, (fun fact!) it’s one of the few superhero stories Pat ‘I hate Superheroes’ Mills likes so I’m probably missing something.
As for Batman being an immortal icon, who knows? But I thought this article about Superman which touches on the topic was interesting…
One of the things that I really really love about The Dark Knight Strikes Again is how (for me) it’s one of the best sequels ever of any medium. Purely for the fact that has nothing in common with the thing it’s sequelling. I mean: the only other example I can think of is how Alien (horror movie) was followed by Aliens (action movie). But even then – I mean: I’m sure if I could be bothered to google it I could easily find something that talked about how similar the beats of both films are: particularly the end – with the whole setting the self-destruct – going back for the cat/kid – alien smuggling itself on board – etc etc.
A sequel that absolutely no-one was crying out for and so it seemed Miller felt he didn’t need to put any effort in. I don’t mind changing the point of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ to being the start of the adventures of Pensioner Batman rather than ‘the Last Batman Story’, I don’t mind Batman becoming right-wing in his old age, what I want is a good story and I don’t think we get that on any level. With ‘TDKR’ we had characters making choices and then living with those choices, Superman makes a deal with the U.S. Government so ends up being forced to fight Batman, in ‘TDKSA’ it turns out that Superman knew that Batman was right because Batman is better at everything except raw strength than Superman it’s just that Superman couldn’t do anything because Luthor and Braniac had Kandor prisoner. Fascist Wonder Woman is not a problem. Stupid fascist Wonder Woman is intolerable. The only points where Miller seems to be making any effort at all is in his lazy swipes at celebrity culture, to the point where the vox pops seem to be telling more of a story than the super heroes. And the artwork? For better or worse, even when Miller’s other work lacked in the story element he was at least interesting visually, but with ‘TDKSA’ characters are frequently hanging in empty space or standing on sparse sets, I guess if Frank can’t draw his prostitutes then Frank isn’t happy.
Barbican Comic Forum
These have been a fun & interesting read.
I’m not sure if you would want to read the pre 9-11 version of DK2, I’d be willing to bet it would have been more similar to ‘Give My Liberty’, the competent but leaden pro Libertarian story (he dedicated it to Ayn Rand) which poor Dave Gibbons had to draw. A strong contender for most underwhelming comic ever, given the talent involved!
Off topic – sorry – but I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water with ‘Give Me Liberty’. I see the scary Pro-Libertarian aspect to part of the politics for sure (the Rand dedication is worrying) but as a Black comics reader I see Martha Washington as a fantastically revolutionary character with American comics and give Miller & Gibbons much props for that story.